Hi friends! Hope you all had a good Labor Day weekend. Mike and I spent the long weekend in central Kentucky (Frankfort/ Lexington area) on a bourbon tour! 95% of the world’s bourbon is made in the Bluegrass State, so we decided to visit and tour a few distilleries and pick up some bottles that are hard to find in other areas of the country.
No surprise, bourbon is everywhere here! A visit to a liquor shop in Lexington revealed a whole aisle of bourbon alone.
Kentucky also produces a ton of moonshine – how cute are these mason jars? We tried some blueberry moonshine though and drained the jar after a sip – as Mike put it, it tastes like cough syrup.
We toured two distilleries during our visit – the classy Woodford Reserve in Versailles and Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. First stop: Woodford!
Woodford Reserve is the oldest bourbon distillery in Kentucky; they’ve been in operation since the 1700s.
We opted to take their tour ($10/ person), which included a tour of their operating facilities and a tasting at the end. You sign up for their tours inside their visiting center; this place is very classy and simple, similar to the design of their bottles.
Our tour started on the ground floor of the cooking and fermentation room, where our guide explained the elements from which bourbon derives its flavor. I knew that the grains and aging process added a lot of flavor, but was surprised to learn that water is also a huge flavor factor! Apparently, Kentucky has some great tasting water sources, which is part of the reason why it’s so big in the bourbon industry.
He also explained what makes a bourbon a bourbon. Bourbon is a type of whiskey made in the United States that needs to adhere to a number of requirements by law: it has to be made of 51% corn, aged in a charred oak barrel (that can only be used once!), and be distilled to, barrelled at, and sold at certain proofs. No artificial color or flavor may be added to the product (bourbon’s beautiful amber color comes from the barrel!)
Upstairs were the mash cookers (where the corn is cooked) and the fermenting tanks, where yeast is added to the mash to start the fermenting process, which lasts 3-6 days.
The resulting alcoholic brew is distilled to purify and increase the alcohol content; Woodford uses three copper stills to distill their alcohol three times. They claim that their process removes many of the impurities in the brew, including sulfur compounds linked to next-day hangovers ;)
Next step: barrelling! The new barrels are toasted and charred prior to being filled. We found out that after barrels are used for aging bourbon, they are used for many other purposes including aging other spirits/ alcohols (rye whiskeys, beer, etc) – but never again bourbon; bourbon must be aged in new barrels.
After an hour touring the buildings, we came to the best part of the tour – the tasting! We got to taste their two main products – Distillers Select and their Double Oaked bourbon. The two products differed only in how they were aged; while the Distillers Select is aged once in single barrle, Double Oaked is aged twice in two different barrels. The second barrel is toasted a little longer on the inside to caramelize the wood and add additional flavor to the bourbon. We could definitely taste the difference; the former was spicier and the latter was slightly sweeter!
The chocolate below? A chocolate shell filled with a bourbon creme made by the local candy company Rebecca Ruth’s. Who knew bourbon and chocolate go so well together! We stopped by the candy store later in our trip to pick up a few boxes for our coworkers ;)
On Saturday, we toured Buffalo Trace, the oldest continuously operated bourbon distillery in the US (they were allowed to operate during Prohibition for “medicinal purposes”). As we approached the distillery, it became clear that Buffalo Trace is a much larger operation than Woodford, and sure enough, they produce 17 different products (Woodford makes two).
We signed up for the 1 hour “hard hat tour” (free, but reservations required), which took us into the buildings that housed the cookers, fermenters and distillers. Because Buffalo Trace is so big, they have multiple tours to cover different parts of the operation.
Our first stop was the mash room, which housed the huge mash cookers for cooking the corn. Thankfully, the cookers were not on today; the room gets extremely hot when the cookers are running! The additional grains (usually rye or wheat and malted barley) are cooked in separate smaller cookers in a different building.
We then entered the fermentation building and climbed up several staircases to see the fermentation vats, which are three stories tall!
Several of the vats were filled with liquid in various stages of the fermenting process, and our guide encouraged us to stick our fingers in and taste the fermenting mash. Don’t worry, it all get purified and distilled several times after the fermentation! The mash tasted both sweet (from the sugars forming) and sour (I think there’s some lactic acid fermentation going on).
We passed from the fermenters to the distillation part of the process – here we are in front of the small distiller used for experimental batches!
The huge column distillers came next! This room looked like a chemistry lab – for a giant. I loved the little buffalo details everywhere :) There are actually only three recipes used at Buffalo Trace; it’s the barrelling, aging and bottling process that results in 17 different products.
Our guide, J.W., was fantastic – very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. His enthusiasm and energy made the tour go by fast! At the end of the tour, we returned to the visitor’s center for a tasting. We got to sample two of their main bourbons – Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace. Eagle Rare was definitely the smoother bourbon (less burn), but Buffalo Trace had a more complex flavor in my opinion.
As a special treat, we also got to try their Bourbon Cream, which is a blend of their Buffalo Trace and real cream. It’s the bourbon version of Bailey’s, and it was the highlight of the tasting for me! Matter of fact, we have a bottle chillin’ in our fridge now, and I’m looking forward to adding it into my hot chocolate this winter!
There are a number of other distilleries in the area (Four Roses, Maker’s Mark, and Heaven Hill for starters), but we were done after two – temperatures were in the 90s and many of the distillery buildings don’t have air conditioning! We stuck to indoor activities for the rest of the weekend, which included watching Guardians of the Galaxy – have you seen it? I thought it was hilarious and very well done.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a recap of the food we ate and workouts we did!
What’s one fun thing you did this weekend?
What will you miss with the passing of summer? Watermelon and flip flops.